Foreword (March 4, 2021)
It has already been 10 years since the terrorist assault on the Samarian Jewish settlement of Itamar in which a young family was caught unawares in their sleep and cut down in their prime by deviant Arab rivals. I am republishing part of this article in honor of the Jewish victims. On January 6, 2021, the day of, and incidentally, during the U.S. Capitol riots, (my TV and social media were turned off), I wrote some current thoughts of mine on the conflict between the Jewish so-called ‘settlers’ and the Sunni-majority Muslim Palestinians, as an afterword to the piece which was originally entitled, ‘Against All Odds’. Once, in defense of the policies of the Jewish state, (in maintaining its Jewish-majority for voting purposes), I questioned modern Democracy, seeing it as a trick of the devil, an artificial ideology of greedy, jealous and barbaric Enlightenment revolutionaries. Now, after living abroad in the United States for just shy of a decade, I envision a democratic parliamentary Palestinian state in Gaza, East Jerusalem and the West Bank, with Jewish souls living safely and contributing within said newfangled Arab polis. I see a binational design of inversions; to borrow a phrase from Eastern thought: ‘yin-yang’.
“This image shows the Chinese symbol for taijitu (太極 圖), i.e. black representing yin with yang in the middle and white representing yang with yin in the middle.” (Wikimedia Commons)
The Jewish state, with its loyal and irreplaceable Arab population = ‘yin’, and her primarily Islamic neighbor, the Palestinian Authority, with her Jewish population who insists on living isolated on Judean and Samarian lands (the divided and fractured subkingdoms of Israel) = ‘yang’. But the Arabs have to realize, if they want the full responsibility of statehood, if they want the so-called “occupation” to end, it is strictly contingent on a zero tolerance policy for terrorism and Jewish and/or Christian-targeted violence.
Like Thomas Jefferson’s Declaration of United States Independence from Great Britain: “all men are created equal…” These are words which must permeate Palestinian religious pedagogy and shape ethical secular trends. (This reminds that not only does the Palestinian Authority need a constitution to set them apart from Israel, the PLO, Fatah and Hamas, but it’s high time Israel had something like it, as well, so they can decide once and for all on whether they are for a one-state solution, two-state solution, Democracy, or they’re gradually drifting towards something else). And do not forget, on account of their stringent and blind dogma, Palestinians, like late Brooklyn rapper, the Notorious B.I.G., are “ready to die” for their cause, and a true Shaheed, on a jihad, is always willing to go down just like Biggie Smalls, “a bad boy”: making the ultimate sacrifice for their god, their prophet, their land.
I fear, sometimes, whether halachic Jews in the ‘settlements’, aren’t equally precarious. Both sides (Arab and Jew) are wrong; but both sides are beautiful and deserving of the same democratic promise made to Americans: “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness…” Why wouldn’t such a dream be offered to the citizens of Israel (Muslim, Christian and Jew, alike)? Why is it Jewish souls are not even allowed within PA territory, in some cases? What both sides suffer from is a strain of cancer. The cancer is known simply as xenophobia. And it is destroying the land, the individual religions, the dream of redemption on Earth. It is the common denominator in all the terrorism and strife, the squabbling and the causing one another to suffer. Once we get over the anti-Semitism, Islamophobia and acute xenophobia, the Palestinians will be able to finalize their state, and will accept Jews within to pray, exist, thrive and give new Jewish life to the fertile soil, even in an Arab-majority Palestinian country in biblical Judaea and Samaria.
But first let’s revisit an example of just what the hell is taking so long:
“AGAINST ALL ODDS” (Late November 2011)
On March 11, 2011, Rabbi Ehud (Udi) and his wife Ruth Fogel, both in their 30s, were killed, along with their 11-year-old boy, a three-year-old toddler and a one-month-old infant girl. They all had their throats slit. The only survivors of the household, 13-year-old Tamar, Roi, eight and Yishai Fogel, two-years-old, now live in Jerusalem with their grandparents. Despite the recent tragedy, they still pay friendly and even sentimental visits to Itamar.
In spite of the latest terror attack, the 1,400 residents of Itamar are tough. Perhaps they are used to it. Itamar is the largest settlement in all of Samaria. It was founded in 1984 by the late Rabbi Chanan Borat. If it were not for animosity with the neighbors, the quality of life on Itamar would be extremely good, especially on the scenic ‘Gav HaHar’, where the bloc is located.
There is a beautiful expansive vista of the Shomron valley; quality Jewish education; a remarkable stone quarry where ancient Jewish ruins were unearthed displaying a wine cellar from 2,000 years ago. There is an olive-oil press, a shop where homemade yogurt is sold; and there is even horseback riding for all ages and a petting zoo for children.
Making olive oil on Itamar (photo: Scott Shlomo Krane)
The home of Rebbetzin Leah and Rabbi Moshe Goldsmith — the mayor of Itamar — was visited the day before I came by a team shooting a documentary. Mayor Goldsmith was on the scene immediately when the residents of Itamar learned there was trouble brewing on the fateful Sabbath night of the murders; as he represents and watches over the community.
Disassembled fence in front of the Fogel’s home. The attackers cut it down with their knives. (photo: Scott Shlomo Krane)
As I speak to the couple, the phone rings and it is yet another film production team making an appointment to come tomorrow and make yet another documentary. “It is amazing how drawn the world is to Itamar now,” remarks Rabbi Goldsmith to his wife, while placing his cellphone back in his pocket. Over the summer, conservative talk-show host, and born-again Mormon, Glenn Beck
, came to visit the home and commend the community for its strength.
August, 2011; former Fox News TV host, current conservative talk-radio host, and founder/owner of rightwing news site, TheBlaze.com. In this picture, Beck takes a walking tour of Itamar on his visit to Judea and Samaria to learn about security and the conflict. (photo courtesy: Moshe Goldsmith
Mayor Goldsmith leaves to check his email and I sit to chat with Leah.
Leah suggests I call the article I am writing, “Against All Odds.” She explains that “No community has suffered more loss and bereavement than Itamar.”
The rabbi who ordained Mayor Goldsmith was murdered, shot to death outside Itamar during the ‘Second’ or the ‘al-Aqsa’ Intifada. And the night before I arrived, an intruder was spotted by the army sneaking onto the settlement, trying to steal sheep; an occurrence that happens way too often, according to Goldsmith.
Route of the Fogel’s attackers (photo cred: Scott Shlomo Krane)
The disturbances are constant. But the settlers remain steadfast. No one has left the settlement since the latest attack. “Everyone remains strong,” says Mayor Goldsmith, “We even have to build more homes.”
Leah Goldsmith explains, “Against the obstacles from the government and the world community, it survives against all odds. Three of my husband’s students were murdered while playing basketball, in 2001, at the high school which my husband is a founder of. What parents would send their kids to a school where three children were murdered?” she asked, then answered her own question, “Yet the school has quadrupled in number of students.” The high school’s dormitories house kids from all over the country; students are not just from Itamar.
On the same residential block where the Fogels were killed, two other families suffered similar fates. These terror attacks happened nine years ago, when Arabs repeatedly broke into the homes and attacked the residents with knives and guns. “When the Shabos were massacred,” explains Leah, referring to the name of one of these families, “the neighborhood became a ghost town. In spite of this,” explained Leah, “we decided to build 14 homes on the street. All 14 of them — one of which was sold to the Fogels — became sold. The neighborhood was built in response to the terror.” Again she tells me, “I call this against all odds.”
Today, the Ministry of Transportation is building a new road that connects the neighborhood where the murders happened to the rest of the settlement. “It provides light and a sense of security for those who live there…” says Mayor Rabbi Goldsmith. “So they are not afraid to travel and not afraid to walk at night.” The new road is to be totally subsidized by the government, a gift from the Ministry of Transportation.
Constructing new road on the Itamar Yishuv (photo cred: Scott Shlomo Krane)
Another example Leah gives me, as to why the article should be titled “Against all Odds,” is because yishuv-member, Avri Ram’s chicken coop, Ginot Olum, is the number one producer in Israel of organic eggs, or so it was explained to me: ”When a left-winger in Tel Aviv is eating his eggs in the morning, he doesn’t care about politics. This is against all odds!” proclaims the Rebbetzin, the wife of the mayor of Itamar.
Hard to believe there’s enough room in this chicken coop to feed the settlement alone, let alone the secular communities in Tel Aviv, as I was told by Leah Goldsmith. (photo cred: Scott Shlomo Krane)
After the Fogel atrocity, some children from the community suffered Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, says Mayor Goldsmith. For this, the regional council has provided assistance for some. There is a hotline to call where victims can speak to psychologists. However, it seems as if it is tradition, if not protocol, on Itamar that each time the Arabs from the neighboring village attack, the settlers build more and more.
“We are in a growth spurt. We are building a new synagogue and school. Itamar is not at all falling back. It is only going forward,” says Rabbi Goldsmith.
The school where Rav Udi Fogel used to teach has now been torn down and a new school is being built in his name, not to mention a new synagogue. Everything except for the new road are being built with privately donated money, just the new road is being built with government money.
Building new synagogue and beit medrish in honor of the fallen Rabbi Udi Fogel. (photo cred: Scott Shlomo Krane)
Mayor Goldsmith and the regional council have been deliberating with the army for some months to construct a new security fence outline on Itamar which will slightly alter the settlement’s layout. The Jewish civilians are also placing an updated security camera system in the wilderness, on the routes where the intruders generally come from.
When asked of his reaction to Prime Minister Netanyahu’s releasing the photographs of the butchered Fogel family to the domestic and foreign press, Mayor Goldsmith said that he understood and agrees with the move. “He [Netanyahu] and the family wanted the world to see what we are up against here.” He explains, “Every time we are attacked, we know what the terrorists want. Our response is to dig in deeper, to grow, to quadruple and multiply. This is what our focus is on. We are not giving into the demands of terrorists.” Goldsmith continues, “He [Netanyahu] wanted the world to see what kind of hatred we are up against. Because of extremism, the world is in great danger. Israel is leading the war against Islamic terrorism.”
Mayor Rabbi Moshe Goldsmith concludes that, “We’re here and we are here to stay.” Referring to the settlers of Judea and Samaria, he seems to like to preach, (but not any more than the mayor is a doer of actions), “For 2,000 years the Jews were exiled and exterminated. Israel is the only country in the world where the borders have to be defined by the Bible.” He continues, “We are the proof of the pudding. This is the ancient Jewish homeland. [I] wanted to make that clear.”
Rebbeitzin Leah and Rabbi (Mayor) Moshe Goldsmith, posing outside of the front door to their home on the Itamar Yishuv. (photo cred: Scott Shlomo Krane)
Afterword (January 6, 2021)
Rabbi Goldsmith has been the mayor of Itamar since November 2005, according to his LinkedIn page. The murder of the Fogels —
of which crime-scene and victim photos
were shared openly (and originally uncensored) with the Israeli public, online, by the powers-that-be in Jerusalem to such news sources as Arutz Sheva —
was undoubtedly the grisliest victimization of Jews in the region: ‘Area C’, to the Oslo Accords, or sub-Nablus, to freemen and women, and those living within a justifiable paradigm of realpolitik
. Yes, it was by far, the sheer grisliest incident to victimize Jewish people in the neighborhood, but not the last. While he was innocently herding sheep, one day, Matan, the younger brother of the late Rabbi Udi Fogel, was beaten by a pack of the young club-brandishing Palestinian Arabs, a mere 13-months after the massacre of his brother, sister-in-law, nieces and nephews. The incident involving Matan Fogel was actually the second situation to happen in the span of just one week: that is, allegedly, after Palestinians began illegally farming the restricted area of Harish
. The area is probably restricted because most of the land, surrounding and especially connected to Itamar, falls under the jurisdiction of the Shomron Regional Council.
Despite what Mayor Goldsmith told me on the record, the only time I met him, back in ’11 (the year of the murders), the population on the settlement of Itamar has actually decreased between the year of the Fogel atrocity and this year, by roughly two to 300 souls, according to the Israel Central Bureau of Statistics (2019). Despite what the mayor tells me, perhaps for propaganda purposes, that’s a hell of a lot of people to declare ‘Exodus,’ for a miniature shtetl in the desert. Perhaps when he spoke to me for our interview inside his house and all around on the grounds of Itamar, he didn’t foresee that the yishuvniks would finally — some of them — find reasons to leave, be it to another outpost deemed “illegal” (probably), or to take it inside the Green Line (less likely).
The future of the region is uncertain. Jerusalem, probably, would never let anything happen to the peoples and homes of Itamar, but does this give the Jews there a right to provoke and harass their Arab neighbors; as if, as Meir Kahane stressed, (and it was the tragic hubris of a prophetic genius), Jewish presence necessarily means Arabs are no longer welcome? Whether it is in response to a terrorist attack or other dispute, or just out of simple-minded Islamophobia or radical religious zealotry; I can say firmly and resolutely, ‘no’ it does not. And every time a Jew near the Itamar Yishuv, who is protected (even if yes, admittedly more so now, than before the Fogel atrocity happened), by the IDF, does something reactionary like throws a stone, destroys Muslim and Christian Palestinian property, or unleashes a racist verbal tirade against a strange Arab, he or she threatens the very arm of the Zionist tree which gives the settler-movement its shade from the desert sun, its uniqueness and stripes of identity. We become unJudaized: ugly reactionaries with maladjusted dispositions towards the world.
Just because we as Israelis, as Jews, dearly miss our deceased friends, the Fogel family (those of which who perished), does not give us the right to uproot the others and undermine the other ways of life lived by those found scattered in the Samarian Mountains. According to the Palestinian NGO, the Applied Research Institute-Jerusalem (ARIJ), Itamar was established on land originally confiscated from ‘Palestinians’. According to Palestinian activists and yes, Muslim political scientists, Israel stole 2,450 dunums from Awarta
; 441 dunums from Beit Furik
; and 1,085 dunums from Yanun-Aqraba
. As for evidence, it’s unclear whether the Palestinians have any; however, I know how it feels as an Ashkenazi Jew to have the cold historical, scientific and forensic facts of the Shoah denied right to my face, I suppose only an Ashkenazi Jew can know that lonely, existential feeling; and what is more, I would never deny the Palestinians’ Naqba tragedy. Looking forward, I am morally confident to be a citizen of a Jewish state which eagerly offers reparations to the Palestinian and Arab population (though, is not, however, interested in paying in spilled Jewish blood). As for actual, pure truth
: the radical Jews will always believe what they want to believe and the radical Palestinians will believe what they wish. Both only want religious supremacy, and complain among their own kind, when things get too liberal, too pluralized, too integrated — too far from the ‘End of Days’. Dealing the Palestinians less land than the Jews have, or more accurately, forcing the Palestinians to deal with the Jewish presence (which they are hellbent on stopping) can’t hurt the conjured Palestinian image of the Jew or Zionist, any more than it is already; that is to say, the Jewish image in the Muslim world (despite the Abraham Accords) can’t be held in any lower esteem. Both sides distort truth. To be fair, for instance, Ahuvia Sandak
would still be alive today if he hadn’t decided to assault Palestinians with stones and rocks and go on the lam in a dangerously high-speed automobile chase with the Jewish
-Israeli police. Whilst, on the other hand, if only they were willing to quit culturally demonizing and physically terrorizing Jews every instance and at every turn, the Palestinian Authority (PA), for better or worse, would have an innumerable supply of COVID-19 vaccinations to distribute amongst and inoculate their citizens by now, (like every other functioning and sovereign country on this planet).
When Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu released the bloody photos of the butchered Fogel children and adults, he may have been fishing for any one-single reaction from Jews, whose political and social reactions are always skewed. Some might have seen the Jewish children laying on their beds that fateful Friday night with their throats cut open, red blood splattered all over the white walls and cool tile floor, and said, ‘That’s it! Are we going to allow this to continue? Let’s get rid of the settlements and bring the kids home, inside the ’67 borders, where they are safe and we can protect them.’
Most Israelis probably reacted with anger, though, and this turns into a sort of strong distrust, before all-out hatred sets in for the Palestinian neighbors. ‘Who slaughters children this way?!’
is the question asked with a depressing loss of innocence. ‘Only a wicked butcher!’
comes the equally depressing, but true, response. But know this beyond any doubt or skepticism: there is no Jew, living or deceased, who deserves the fate
the Fogels were handed.
What is certain is the Arabs have lived on this land for hundreds, maybe thousands of years. And the Jews, for whom the region was once named, (Judea and Samaria) founded by, and governed for, had to wait for the longest to return; but belong just as much as anybody else. That is a fact you can check me on: we too, the Jews, were living in Samaria thousands of years ago, and yes, though in smaller numbers, within hundreds of years ago, and on up until the present day. It takes only a small dose of maturity, mental health and maybe a good read of the Hebrew scriptures to recognize this. Yes, we too have our criminals and our monsters among us. They have theirs. They can do better; much better. But guess what? So can we.
Two Jewish friends pose near the road to Itamar. Someday Jews and Arabs in the region will learn to stop the hatred and violence and will be each other’s buddy. (photo cred: Scott Shlomo Krane)
In Nov. ’11, a previous version of this article (“Against All Odds”) appeared as a column on Arutz Sheva (Israel National News). It was taken down, upon my own frustrated and impulsive demand, but a carbon copy of the first part of the piece remains on my personal blog/freelancer archive thingy at Zotomeret.wordpress.com.